Ayutthaya, the Ancient Thai Capital

Talk about Thailand and most of us would already dream for the exotic beaches, scuba diving, night life or the golden pagodas. Without actually visiting Thailand I felt like experiencing all of these repeatedly through my friends’ FB albums. But we always tend to prefer a soulful, serene vista or a secret hideout over a crowded destination! So a sudden long weekend plan for Thailand made us think beyond the touristy places. That is when I learnt about Ayutthaya, the ancient Thai capital! Without giving a second thought we included this UNESCO site in our bucket-list.

Exploring the ruins of Ayutthaya was like a whole new way of knowing Thailand. People who visited Hampi (in India) might also find a lot of similarities like the rise and fall of a prosperous Empire, scattered patterns of numerous ruins and close vicinity of a river. Dating back to 1350, the outside world used to praise this Thai Kingdom as one of the flourishing Empires of East! It was based in the valley of mighty Chao Phraya River. But the time never flows in same way! The city fell in 1767 after the Burmese invasion followed by a Chinese attack. A glorious kingdom got destroyed in war!

At today’s date only the remains of the erstwhile glory can be seen in mysterious temple ruins and relics

Our sojourn towards the former Thai capital started from Hua Lamphong, the main station of today’s Thai Capital. When possible it is good to ditch the luxury of private AC cars and roam like a local. Not only you can explore a new country in grass root level but also it shows your little, nice gesture towards the environment.

Before the train arrived, we saw a fascinating practice by the locals. The station’s loud-speakers started playing the Thai National song. Every single passenger including the cleaning staffs stood up to show respect; the mothers also made their little, naughty fellows stand still until the music ended!

Waiting at Hua Lamphong Station which serves over 130 trains and approx 60K passengers every day

We boarded the train with many other locals and a few British bag packers. As we settled with the seats the diesel engine whistled past the long stretch of city area. For one last time, I glanced through all the notes and routes which I had penned down during my initial research. Ayutthaya is one of the less known sites, so we could not expect to see a professional guide right after getting down. A bit of self-study helps here to comfortably enjoy the grandeur and the historic significance of the place!

Wat Mahathat Temple Ruins were registered as a national historic site by the Fine Arts Department on 8 March 1935

Wat Mahathat Temple Ruins were registered as a national historic site by the Fine Arts Department on 8 March 1935. The main prang (a tall tower) fell apart in 1911 during the reign of King Rama VI.

After getting down from the train we had to cross a small river by a local ferry and reach at the main island of ruins. Exploring Ayuthhaya on foot is not recommended because of the year-long severe hot weather. Hiring a local tuktuk is a better idea. Within every kilometer we could visit multiple ruins. It took about 5 hours and we were done with the main sites.

Wat Mahathat, built even before Ayutthaya became the capital, was the religious center with many relics of the Buddha

What we could see in most of these sites were just the vigorously ruined shrines and broken Buddha statues, surrounded by nature!

Ancient Buddha Head, nestled within the tree roots for years after the Burmese attack and destruction

Every time I visit any ruins it makes me wonder how human greed can just destroy the finest creations of another human! However, nature has its own rules. I loved how the tree roots simply grew around the Buddha face for past 250 years and secured this eternal smile!

Apart from the main temples some less popular sites like Wat Worachettharam also offered us interesting visuals in different layers

At many places, we could see the same bell shaped stupas which we noticed in Yogjakarta and Myanmar.

Wat Ratchaburana prang still has intriguing stucco work though it was again looted in 20th century.

The life of Buddha is portrayed in the mural paintings on the inner walls.

The main prang (a tall tower)
Wat Phra Si Sanphet temple, the largest of all, was used only for royal religious ceremonies.

It is said that the attackers had set fire to this temple and melted the 343 kilograms of golden Buddha statue that took about 3 years to get built!

The 37-meter long and 8-meter high reclining Buddha of Wat Lokaya Sutha looked so peaceful as the shadowy patterns of a tree confined it within a natural frame.

All the majestic ruins of this ancient city are probably Thailand’s best kept secrets. After the war and devastation, Thai capital shifted to Bangkok and Ayutthaya was abandoned only to get slowly claimed by the jungles. History thrived in the lap of nature.

Treasures and relics, recovered during the restoration, are now kept in Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.

It is a good idea to start as early as possible for Ayutthaya so that most temples could be covered before the unforgiving Sun takes its full form. Last but not the least, there is an option for taking Elephant ride around the temples. My sincere request for all the travelers is to avoid this one. You will get myriads of other alternatives to make the trip memorable; there is no pride in promoting captive wild life tourism. Please read details here to know how the elephants are domesticated and what could be the consequences.

In search of a lost Empire- Hampi

It was winter 2014 and I was on full travel spree due to the pleasant weather. How about Hampi? We heard that it is a paradise for history buffs and bag packers.

After our usual research on some documentaries we packed our bags and ventured out for the lost capital of Vijayanagara Empire. A glorious and rich dynasty that ruled southern India for 200 years. Little did we know that we would end up visiting this UNESCO world heritage site two more times later. Given a chance I can probably visit the place ten more times again!

It was just a one night-bus-journey from Hyderabad where we were working. One can reach more quickly from Bangalore. Hampi always had fascinated me because of its magnificent history and iconic temples and a splendid water tank.  I read about them since school. But upon reaching we realized, Hampi is more than that and even after 3 visits we could not completely explore Hampi!

If you have time you do not need a cab to reach from one ruin to another. Just get a map from Hampi Bazar, cover all the places on foot or on a rented cycle! 600 years old or older ruins are all over the place. Hampi still retains its ancient essence, intense enough to make us keep the cameras aside and sit quietly somewhere.

Every time we stayed in a rooftop room at a small guest house. Virupaksha temple would be behind us with lots of ruins and ridges along north horizon and majestic Hemakuta hill on south.  Did I ever imagine myself in the midst of such wonderful ambiance?

The panoramic view of Virupaksha temple and surroundings from Hemakuta hill


The stretch from Achyutaraya Temple to Virupaksha temple

Hampi is not yet crowded by modern hotels or ‘fun-only’ tourists, rather you can find Indian as well as foreign bag packers, groups of students on educational tour, few homely guest houses, some flea markets and little Tattoo studios. Catching a phone signal was tough and the nearest city with all amenities was 12kms away! Well, that is what we liked most! Would you ever mind running away from your daily worries of urban life?

Hampi is mystic, ancient and pure with all its raw beauty! As you sit on the steps of Pushkarini (rectangular pond) you can actually imagine how the ancient Chalukyans used to float on coracles. There is a small temple right in the middle of every pushkarini. The ruins of flower markets are still there around the sacred pond. We visited the famous Lotus Mahal which has an inbuilt AC mechanism. Then covered the Narasimha temple, elephant stables, queen’s bath, underground shiva temple, stunning Vittala campus and many more architectural splendors. Vittala temple can impress anybody instantly with its photogenic shrine, musical pillars, sprawling campus and the beautiful gateway towers. It is an iconic landmark of Hampi. During our third visit, we saw it already under renovation and prayed from heart that the temple should not lose its original charm!

A morning view around Vittala temple


Inside Vittala temple


Lotus Mahal was designed like a lotus bud. It was used for recreational activities for the royal ladies of Vijayanagara

Pushkarini, the sacred tank

Diwali light decorations inside Virupaksha temple

I still remember my first morning at Hampi. Probably some mornings are so strangely charming that leave a strong impression in you about the place for long. Brimming with excitement we climbed the Hemakuta hill. The chilly wind, the Sunrise behind the Matunga hill, morning chant and resonating bells from Virupaksha temple, everything seemed so amazing on the hill. You can just sit there for hours without saying a word! That’s where we met Vittal also; a little local boy, selling Hampi post cards as he got a day off from school. We shared a cake for breakfast and the kid merrily showed us the shortest way to reach at the bank of river Tungabhadra.

Fueling myself at a breakfast shop beside the river
Sipping your morning cup of tea at Hemakuta Hill is a luxurious experience









As you cross the river, that is another different world. There you enter from history to the mythical era of Hindu epic Ramayana. Many believe that Hampi is the ancient Kishkindhya. There are places like Anjaneya Hill which is believed to be the birth place of Hindu Lord Hanuman, Pampa Sarovar where Lord Rama met his devotee Sabari, Rishimukh hill where Rama and Hanuman met each other etc. All I can advise here is just to refresh your knowledge about Ramayana before visiting this site and your experience would be unforgettable. I am neither a religious person nor advising you to be one. But connecting the dots from the mythical events, was awe-inspiring indeed!

Bird’s eye view of Hampi from Anjaneya Hill
The priest, speaking in the backdrop of Rishimukh hill

During our last trip, we were searching for a mountain which is believed to be the Rishimukh hill. As we walked past the Tunga Bhadra river, met a priest, taking his morning dip. He only showed us that we are already in front of  the hill. It is nevertheless a humbling experience to stand before a mythical mountain. Further talking to the priest revealed that he has changed his jobs and places several times just for the sake of experience. Would you believe that the priest once worked as a cook for some Indian army team at border!

Meeting unknown people sometimes gives you a unique kind of joy! On our way to Achyutaraya, we met a stone artist. I also tried my hands in chiseling out some God’s face.

Be it little Vittal or this artist or the priest, when we hear about their daily lives, struggle and amazing experiences, somehow I remember those more than whatever I hear during a family gathering or a kitty party! You may call it as ‘disorder’ in my brain algorithm but I am happy with it  🙂

Except the people, ruins, history and mythology, Hampi has another thing in its Pandora’s box. The mesmerizing sunset spots. There are numerous places like Matunga hill, Malavanta hill, Hemakuta hill where we enjoyed the vivid sunset in every trip and still can not decide which one was better. Sometimes, same place offered us different look and perception. Rock climbers would definitely prefer Matunga hill while usual travelers might want to avoid due to the steep pathway.

So here goes few sunset shots for you to decide 🙂 while I take a break. Because ‘Hampi’ is not yet completely explored and probably that always leaves a smile on our faces. Because we can go back again to see some more!

You can leave your perception about Hampi in the comment. Tell me if you know a secret, sacred, peaceful spot that can be covered in our next trip 🙂

Malavanta Hill where Lord Rama had stayed at Kishkindhya before his journey to Lanka


Sunset from the Hemakuta hill


Sunset from Hemakuta Hill
A traveler practicing sunset yoga